Hard News by Russell Brown


Trading Trade Me?

One of the more notable things about the phenomenon we know as Trade Me is that it distinguished New Zealand as one of the few Western territories in which the local auctioneering upstart shut out the giant eBay. So how would you feel if, after all, eBay was to come in and just buy Trade Me?

That -- offered here without warranty -- is roughly the rumour that has been doing the rounds of New Zealand's little internet publishing industry: that Fairfax and eBay have been talking. Is it possible that Fairfax, in need of cash now, would sell the golden goose? Certainly. Is it probable? Wouldn't know.

The other chat -- not so much rumour as a fact yet to be announced -- is that Yellow, the sold-off former Telecom directories business, is in the process of acquiring Finda. I'm not sure what their plan would be. Nobody I talk to ever seems to understand what Yellow is doing.

Meanwhile, Tony O'Reilly has abandoned his attempt to sell the 39% of Herald and Listener publisher APN currently held by his company Independent News and Media. Nobody wanted it in the current market. What has befallen O'Reilly's company is remarkable INM's share price has fallen 95% in the past two years. Its more pressing problem -- and what motivated the failed attempt to sell its APN holding -- has been a €200m bond repayment looming in May. Its total debt runs to €1.4 billion. Investors have now rewarded INM's announcement that it would stage a garage sale of some other stuff it owns.

NBR's Mitchell Hall is speculating that the historically profitable Herald itself might still be broken off and separately floated.

As it happens, the Herald also has happier news this week. It's 10 years since the New Zealand Herald went online. Its launch was not auspicious. Wilson & Horton had entered a "special" relationship with Telecom -- and for its pains, got its corporate website developed by Telecom's basket-case Brisbane developer Digital Video Productions, which created the original Xtra site.

By the time the website got to air, the Cold Fusion-based mess had been handed on to a local company, Clearfield, to sort out. There wasn't a whole lot of budget floating around for a while afterwards. I covered it in my story of how Telecom met the internet for the debut issue of Unlimited:

The story of Xtra’s subsidiary, Digital Video Productions, is a lesson in poor partnerships.

While Xtra’s designers were quietly finding ways to work around DVP’s original X-ville design, the Brisbane-based subsidiary began touting for local business, recommending an “initial budget range” of $95,000 to $295,000 for corporate Web sites. It was pricey.

The company bid for the job creating Yellow Pages Online, but according to a Telecom Directories manager, “they had no idea of how little they knew” and the job eventually went to Webmasters. Another job, for Tourism Auckland, was never completed.

DVP was then directed to Wilson and Horton to create a corporate Web site as part of Xtra and W&H’s “strategic alliance”. Knowingly or not, Telecom sold a pup to its most important media partner.

By July 1997, every element of the job had been taken away from DVP and given to other firms. W&H IT manager Tim Barrable told Computerworld that his company was “still reeling from the repercussions” of DVP’s “poor quality work”. Since then, W&H has left behind its alliance and begun developing its own Internet presence.

DVP, once the key to Tyler’s would-be media empire, was passed back to its management in September 1997. By that time, it had acquired a new name inside Telecom: “DDT”.

Anyway, since then, the Herald website has become a phenomenon that sees more than two million unique visitors a month. I'm very grateful that the website is there for me every day, not least for the opportunities it offers for robust debate about the paper's editorial stances.

One disappointment, though. The obvious thing to do would be to bring up a 1998 nzherald.co.nz page in The Wayback Machine to remind everyone how version one looked. But when I tried, I got this message. Someone at APN has opted to use a robots.txt file to exclude the Herald site from archiving. You can see Stuff, you can see the New York Times. But not the Herald. I hope there's a technical reason for this, because if not, it's pretty silly.


Meanwhile, TV advertising dipped 1.1% last year. While that doesn't sound like much, the numbers to look at are the 3.1% increase in value in the first half of 2008 -- and the 4.4% slump in the second. That's quite a slide.

And, as predicted, a year ago, the US is not ready to make its analog-digital TV switchover, which the new administration has opted to delay until June.

And finally, we recorded the first of the new season of Media7 last night, and I'm really happy with how it went. The new 47-minute running time allows us more flexibility (I'm tempted to push for a juggler in Part 3, just for the hell of it) and really helps make the programme more of an event. We have panels on the media and Obama, and the future of the book (set up by a highly enjoyable report by Simon Pound) and a new feature from Sarah Daniell.

It screens on TVNZ 7 after the 9pm news tonight. I'll link to the online version tomorrow.

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